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2020 NFL Draft Grades – Denver Broncos

The Broncos showered second-year QB Drew Lock with speedy pass-catchers early, but it is the middle and late round steals which will eventually make this GM John Elway’s best draft class to date.
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Given the months and months of build-up to the annual NFL draft, the rush to summarize a team’s rookie draft class in a few sentences and stamp a letter grade on it has never quite made much sense to me.

In the past, I’ve compared this process to patrons at a restaurant complimenting (or complaining to) the chef based on the menu, rather than waiting to actually taste the food.

In much this same way, it obviously takes time to properly evaluate a draft. Given all of the complexities of the 2020 NFL draft, specifically, this is especially true.

So, while we cannot skip years ahead to know for certain which players will ultimately exceed or fail to live up to expectations in the NFL, we can provide a much deeper dive into each team’s rookie class.

Therefore, in a 32-part series, will be providing a detailed breakdown of each of the NFL teams’ rookie hauls, following the original draft order. Each team will be evaluated on the quality, quantity and relative safety of their draft classes (including undrafted free agents), with specific players recognized as Best Player, Best Value and Best Project, culminating in one “final” grade.

Today’s team: Denver Broncos

Head Coach: Vic Fangio

General Manager: John Elway

Players selected in 2020:

Round 1, Pick 15 overall: WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama

Round 2, Pick 46 overall: WR K.J. Hamler, Penn State

Round 3, Pick 77 overall: CB Michael Ojemudia, Iowa

Round 3, Pick 83 overall: C Lloyd Cushenberry, LSU

Round 3, Pick 95 overall: DT McTelvin Agim, Arkansas

Round 4, Pick 118 overall: TE Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri

Round 5, Pick 178 overall: LB Justin Strnad, Wake Forest

Round 6, Pick 181 overall: OG Netane Muti, Fresno State

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Round 7, Pick 252 overall: WR Tyrie Cleveland, Florida

Round 7, Pick 254 overall: DE Derrek Tuszka, North Dakota State

Key Undrafted Free Agents:

RB Levante Bellamy, Western Michigan

CB Essang Bassey, Wake Forest

WR Kendall Hinton, Wake Forest

QB Riley Neal, Vanderbilt

S Douglas Coleman III, Texas Tech

Overview of the Broncos’ 2020 draft: Few NFL teams can claim a better haul in the 2020 NFL draft than the Denver Broncos, which showered second-year quarterback Drew Lock with four productive pass-catchers (as well as a couple of future starting blockers) while also strategically supplementing a defense which already was boosted significantly in the offseason with the March 20 trade for Pro Bowl cornerback AJ Bouye. Most will focus on the selection of Biletnikoff Award-winning wideout Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler, a Tyler Lockett clone, and for good reason as both are terrific fits with the strong-armed Lock. Rich with draft capital, the Broncos added quality pass-catchers later, as well, while also sprinkling in key defenders and blockers. Iowa’s Michael Ojemudia, who didn’t emerge as a fulltime starter until his senior season, was a bit of a surprise at No. 77 overall but scouts were high on his upside with some projecting the former high school linebacker to make the transition to safety in the NFL – at least until he ran a 4.45 at nearly 6-1, 200 pounds. Arkansas’ McTelvin “Sosa” Agim is another that scouts liked better than many in the media with the four-year starter’s experience playing inside and out of Arkansas’ base 4-3 making him better prepared than most to handle the transition to Vic Fangio’s beloved three-man front. McTelvin complements another proven and reliable schematic match a dozen picks earlier in LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry, a possible plug and play starter for the Broncos. Tight end was not a huge need for this club given the selection of Noah Fant in the first round a year ago, but a similarly-built and gifted Albert Okwuegbunam – Lock’s favorite target at Mizzou – was just too much value to ignore at No. 118 overall. Of Denver’s other Day Three selections, former Fresno State blocker Netane Muti stands out from a pure talent perspective. He struggled mightily with injuries at Fresno State but was a dominant and surprisingly versatile player when healthy, making him an ideal late round lottery ticket. If there is a quibble with Denver’s draft it would be that many of its players have struggled a bit with injury and it goes without saying that receivers developing rapport with Lock will take time – perhaps even more than “normal” due to a variety of reasons, including the lack of minicamps due to COVID-19. From top to bottom, however, the raw talent and upside of this class is the best of John Elway’s tenure as the Broncos’ general manager.

Best Player of the Broncos’ 2020 Draft: WR Jerry Jeudy

Ranking right there with quarterbacks historically speaking, wide receivers are the riskiest position to draft in the first round with nearly as many busts as stars. That has not been the case with first round receivers drafted out of Alabama, however, with Calvin Ridley (2018), Amari Cooper (2015) and Julio Jones (2011) each living up to expectations with Jeudy, the latest five-star recruit to excel in Nick Saban’s football factory. Jeudy, who won the Biletnikoff Award as a true sophomore (when Tua Tagovailoa was healthy all season), is the quickest on the field of that remarkable foursome. His suddenness off the snap to gain an immediate release, as well as his burst and body control as a route-runner and after the catch allow Jeudy to leave even his own shadow guessing at his next move. Jeudy’s rare wiggle forces cornerbacks to play conservatively, giving his quarterback wider windows to operate, similar to the way that second-year 6-4, 216 pound wideout Courtland Sutton became a Pro Bowler a year ago in part because of his size and catch radius. The stop-start quickness and elusiveness of Jeudy, and speedy second-round Hamler, as well, should beautifully complement the 6-4, 216 pound Sutton’s brawn in what is the most traditional (but not solitary) stable of the Broncos’ young pass-catching “stallions.”

Best Value of the Broncos’ 2020 Draft: TE Albert Okwuegbunam

The NFL is the ultimate copycat league and with the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers heading to the Super Bowl in part due to elite play at tight end, every club in the league is looking for similar size-speed mismatches. With his career aided by fellow Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe, Elway needs no reminders of the value of the position, as was proven last year with the selection of Noah Fant in the first round. In Okwuegbunam, Elway nabbed a talent a year (and 99 picks) later who is bigger, faster and has the benefit of working with Lock for three years. Okwuegbunam is a virtual clone of veteran NFL tight end Jimmy Graham, long considered one of the league’s elite matchup threats and a one-time All-Pro with the New Orleans Saints. Like Graham, Okwuegbunam is a large man who plays small, at times, showing limited strength and toughness, which is why each lasted until Day Three of their respective draft classes despite obvious traits. Just as Graham was when paired with Sean Payton and Drew Brees in New Orleans, Okweugbunam is a clear match with Lock and new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, a three-time NFL head coach who got his start in the league coaching tight ends in Philadelphia back in 1999.

Best Project of the Broncos’ 2020 Draft: OG Netane Muti

It isn’t often that a team is celebrated for drafting a player who has played in just five games the past two seasons but given the late point he was selected, Muti deserves mentioning here. In terms of sheer talent, Muti warranted a Day Two pick. When on the field, he was a man amongst boys, at times, showing terrific quickness and agility while blocking at left guard and left tackle for the Bulldogs. Unable to demonstrate this athleticism at the Combine, Muti instead showed his elite strength, throwing up 44 repetitions of 225 pounds, the most bench press reps of any player tested in Indianapolis this year. The talent is very real. Unfortunately, so too are Muti’s durability concerns. Since 2016, he has torn both Achilles tendons and, most recently, is coming off of a Lisfranc surgery in October. If he can get his body right, Muti will compete for a starting role at guard early in his NFL career.

Overall Grade for the Broncos’ 2020 Draft: A-

Previous 2020 NFL Draft Report Cards: Cincinnati Bengals |Washington Redskins | Detroit Lions | New York Giants | Miami Dolphins | Los Angeles Chargers | Carolina Panthers | Arizona Cardinals | Jacksonville Jaguars | Cleveland Browns | New York Jets | Las Vegas Raiders | Indianapolis Colts | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Denver Broncos | Atlanta Falcons | Dallas Cowboys | Pittsburgh Steelers | Chicago Bears | Los Angeles Rams | Philadelphia Eagles | Buffalo Bills | New England Patriots | New Orleans Saints | Houston Texans | Minnesota Vikings | Seattle Seahawks | Baltimore Ravens | Green Bay Packers | Tennessee Titans | San Francisco 49ers | Kansas City Chiefs